Why is chess banned in France?
Chess is a game of strategy and skill that has been played for centuries. But did you know that chess was once banned in France? Why did this happen, and when did it happen? In this blog post, we will explore the history and the reasons behind the chess ban in France.
The history of chess in France dates back to the 9th century, when the game was introduced by the Arabs who conquered parts of Spain and southern France. Chess became popular among the nobility and the clergy, who saw it as a way of improving their mental abilities and their military skills. Chess also became a part of the courtly culture, where it was used as a form of entertainment and education.
However, chess also faced some opposition and criticism from some religious and political authorities, who saw it as a waste of time, a distraction from more important duties, or a source of gambling and violence. Chess was periodically banned by kings and bishops, who tried to enforce their moral and social views on the population.
The most famous chess ban in France occurred in 1254, when King Louis IX (1214-1270), also known as Saint Louis, issued an edict that prohibited chess and all other games. Louis IX was a devout and pious king, who led several crusades to the Holy Land. He was also a reformer and a legislator, who tried to improve the administration and justice of his kingdom. He had an aversion to all games, which he considered frivolous and sinful. He believed that games distracted people from their religious duties and their moral obligations. He also feared that games could lead to gambling, cheating, lying, swearing, or even violence.
The edict of 1254 was part of a larger reform program that Louis IX initiated after he returned from his first crusade. He wanted to purify his kingdom from all forms of corruption and vice. He also wanted to promote peace and harmony among his subjects. He imposed strict rules on his courtiers and his officials, as well as on himself. He banned all forms of luxury, entertainment, and amusement. He also banned all forms of gambling, including chess.
The edict of 1254 stated:
We forbid all our subjects to play at dice or at any other game of chance; we also forbid them to play at chess or at tables; we forbid them to lend money at interest or at usury; we forbid them to swear by God or by any creature; we forbid them to blaspheme or to curse; we forbid them to fight or to quarrel; we forbid them to carry arms or to wear swords; we forbid them to wear furs or silks; we forbid them to eat meat or fat on forbidden days; we forbid them to hunt or to hawk; we forbid them to dance or to sing profane songs; we forbid them to wear long hair or pointed shoes; we forbid them to wear jewels or ornaments; we forbid them to wear any color except black or gray.
The edict of 1254 was not the first nor the last chess ban in France. Chess was also banned by other kings and bishops before and after Louis IX. For example:
- In 1125, Bishop Guy of Paris banned chess and excommunicated some priests who were caught playing chess.
- In 1198, Bishop Eudes de Sully of Paris banned chess from the clergy in his diocese.
- In 1340, Charles V (1337-1380) banned chess in France.
- In 1422, Charles VI (1368-1422) banned chess in France.
However, the edict of 1254 was the most comprehensive and severe chess ban in France. It affected not only the clergy but also the nobility and the commoners. It also affected not only chess but also all other games. It also lasted for a long time, until it was repealed by Charles VII (1403-1461) in 1454.
The reasons behind the chess ban in France were mainly religious and moral. Chess was seen as a game that violated the Christian values and principles that Louis IX and other authorities wanted to uphold and enforce. Chess was also seen as a game that had negative effects on the society and the individuals who played it.
Some of the reasons why chess was banned in France were:
- Chess was a waste of time: Chess was considered a useless and unproductive activity that took away time from more important matters, such as prayer, study, work, or service. Chess was also seen as a distraction from one’s spiritual goals and obligations.
- Chess was a source of gambling: Chess was often played for money or for stakes, which involved risk, greed, and dishonesty. Gambling was condemned by the church as a sin that offended God and harmed one’s soul.
- Chess was a source of violence: Chess was sometimes played with passion and emotion, which could lead to anger, resentment, or hatred. Chess could also provoke disputes, arguments, or fights among the players or the spectators. Chess could also incite wars or rebellions, as some historical examples showed.
- Chess was a source of pride: Chess was a game that involved skill, intelligence, and strategy. Chess could make the players feel superior, arrogant, or vain. Chess could also make the players disrespect or mock their opponents or their authorities.
- Chess was a source of idolatry: Chess was a game that involved pieces that represented kings, queens, bishops, knights, and rooks. Chess could make the players worship or adore these pieces, or the game itself, instead of God. Chess could also make the players forget or neglect their religious duties and symbols.
These reasons were based on the beliefs and values of Louis IX and other authorities who banned chess in France. However, these reasons were not shared or accepted by everyone. Many people continued to play chess despite the ban, either secretly or openly. Many people also defended chess as a game that had positive effects on the society and the individuals who played it.
Some of the arguments in favor of chess were:
- Chess was a source of education: Chess was a game that improved one’s mental abilities and skills, such as memory, logic, calculation, creativity, etc. Chess also taught one about history, geography, culture, etc.
- Chess was a source of entertainment: Chess was a game that provided fun and enjoyment for the players and the spectators. Chess also relieved one from boredom, stress, or sadness.
- Chess was a source of friendship: Chess was a game that brought people together and fostered social interaction and communication. Chess also promoted peace and harmony among different groups and nations.
- Chess was a source of virtue: Chess was a game that required discipline, patience, concentration, etc. Chess also encouraged honesty, respect, courtesy, etc.
- Chess was a source of wisdom: Chess was a game that reflected life and its challenges and opportunities. Chess also inspired one to seek knowledge and truth.
These arguments were based on the experiences and opinions of many people who played chess in France. However, these arguments were not enough to persuade or influence Louis IX and other authorities who banned chess in France. They remained firm and adamant in their decision and conviction.
Conclusion on Why is Chess Banned in France?
Chess was banned in France in 1254 by King Louis IX, who had an aversion to all games. He considered chess and all other games as sinful and harmful for his kingdom and his subjects. He issued an edict that prohibited chess and all other games, and imposed strict rules on his courtiers and his officials, as well as on himself.
The chess ban in France was part of a larger reform program that Louis IX initiated after he returned from his first crusade. He wanted to purify his kingdom from all forms of corruption and vice. He also wanted to promote peace and harmony among his subjects.
The chess ban in France was based on religious and moral reasons, such as waste of time, source of gambling, source of violence, source of pride, and source of idolatry. However, these reasons were not shared or accepted by everyone. Many people continued to play chess despite the ban, either secretly or openly. Many people also defended chess as a game that had positive effects, such as source of education, source of entertainment, source of friendship, source of virtue, and source of wisdom.
The chess ban in France lasted for 200 years, until it was repealed by Charles VII in 1454. However, chess remained controversial and unpopular in France for a long time. Chess did not become widely accepted and appreciated in France until the 18th century, when it became associated with the Enlightenment movement.
Chess is now legal and popular in France, as well as in many other countries around the world. Chess is now seen as a game that enriches one’s mind and soul, as well as one’s culture and society.
- Britannica (n.d.). Chess – History. Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/topic/chess/History#ref23061
- Reddit (n.d.). Why was chess banned by different churches at various times throughout history? Retrieved from https://www.reddit.com/r/AskHistorians/comments/2uuwvi/why_was_chess_banned_by_different_churches_at/
- Osgamers (n.d.). Why was chess banned in France? Retrieved from https://osgamers.com/frequently-asked-questions/why-was-chess-banned-in-france/
Benjamin Miller is the founder and editor of The Extra Game. He plays chess, scrabble and Monopoly at a masters level. He is a board game enthusiast, publisher, designer, and reviewer with over 10 years of experience in the industry. He loves to share his passion, knowledge, and recommendations for board games with the world.